Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on Thursday:
1. Jonathan Toews to the rescue
The Blackhawks didn't play their best game of the season. Not even close. But they're finding ways to win despite that. And their captain was the main reason why they earned the much-needed extra point against a Canucks team that went into the day sitting in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference was 5-0-0 in their previous five games against Chicago.
Toews was approaching the end of his second shift in overtime, but found an opening and went for it. His terrific individual effort speaks for itself, and it gave the Blackhawks their sixth consecutive win.
"I think maybe everyone else on the ice was as tired as I was," said Toews, who extended his point streak to six games and has 12 career overtime winners. "I was just trying to make one last play without it being too dangerous of a play and risking a turnover. But I was able to anticipate their D-man throwing his stick in there and was able to get a shot on net. It’s nice to see those go in."
2. Special teams galore
For much of the first period, the Canucks looked like the better team. They generated 12 scoring chances at 5-on-5 compared to the Blackhawks' five, and eight high danger chances vs. only two allowed, according to naturalstattrick.com.
But after staving off the Canucks and killing off a 5-on-3 penalty for 1:10 along with the rest of the 50 seconds at 5-on-4, the Blackhawks were awarded a couple power plays of their own in the final four minutes. And they delivered.
With goals from Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Saad just 1:23 apart, the Blackhawks quickly went up 2-0 and went into intermission feeling good about themselves because they know they didn't have their best period. That's how important an effective power play is these days.
"It was a weird game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We go down 5-on-3, we kill it off, we get our own 5-on-3, we score twice. It's like, 'Wow.' We're finding ways to get it done. ... I think we feel like every time we go on the power play we're a threat. We're going to score sometimes, but the big thing is that we create momentum, create chances, keep moving it forward, keep them under pressure and we can build on it whether we put the puck in the net or not."
It's the eighth time in the past 16 games the Blackhawks have scored multiple power-play goals after doing so zero times in their first 39 games. The Blackhawks were 4-on-4 on the penalty kill before the Canucks scored on their fifth opportunity with 1:52 left in regulation.
3. Erie Otters connection strikes again
The DeBrincat and Strome chemistry is well-documented, dating back to their days with the Erie Otters in the OHL. Their on-ice connection was on full display against the Canucks.
Strome and DeBrincat connected twice, both of which were dishes from Strome and finished by DeBrincat. The second was a terrific no-look pass by Strome that summed up their night together.
"It's chemistry," Strome said. "He's usually over there. We've had a couple of close ones where we didn't really click on it, but it felt good. We felt good before the game and for whatever reason it clicked today."
With two goals, DeBrincat matched his goal total (28) from his rookie campaign in 27 fewer games. He also stretched his point streak to seven games, which ties a season high, and become the eighth play in Blackhawks history to record at least 50 points in each of their first two NHL seasons.
4. Wild card picture
Unlike Tuesday, the Blackhawks didn't get as much help around the league on Thursday. All 15 Western Conference teams were in action, and a majority of the teams above them picked up points.
The Avalanche earned a point by scoring a late third-period goal to force overtime in Washington before losing. The Oilers defeated the Wild in regulation. And the Blues beat the Lightning in overtime to move into the second wild card spot. The Coyotes were the only notable team that lost in regulation.
The good news? The Blackhawks have jumped Anaheim and Arizona in the standings in a span of 48 hours. Two down, four more to go.
"It’s hard not to," Toews said on standings watching. "I think that’s the fun of it, is seeing what’s going on around the league every night when our conference is as close as it is. We’ve been talking about that, too, is we’re going to focus on our job and that’s pretty much all that we can control, so that’s what we’ll worry about. But there’s no doubt you’re aware of what’s going on."